Car reviews - Kia - Seltos - range
Spacious interior dimensions, well-settled ride, capable powertrains, large touchscreen, solid spec levels, generally good NVH, full-size spare
Room for improvement
Feels top-heavy around corners, ride compromised by 18-inch wheels on GT-Line, steering a little too sharp, DCT not particularly smooth
Kia joins small-SUV party with accomplished, practical and affordable Seltos
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18 Oct 2019
THE Seltos small SUV has been a long time coming for Kia. From 2011 to 2018, small-SUV sales in Australia have exploded, from 39,535 units to 139,163.
During that time, many manufacturers including Toyota, Mazda and Nissan have released their own brand-new crossovers that have helped add important volume to each brand’s bottom line.
While late to the party, Kia has finally thrown its hat in the ring after knocking back a number of other possible candidates sold overseas.
Now joining a relatively competitive segment, does the Seltos have what it takes to stand out from the crowd and boost the South Korean brand’s sales volume?
First drive impressions
In 2019, the Seltos joins a long list of small-SUV competitors which have staked their claim in the segment to some degree, meaning it will need a point of difference to be able to carve out a niche and achieve the roughly 8000 annual sales Kia is hoping for.
Seeing the Seltos for the first time, one point of difference to segment leaders like the Mitsubishi ASX and Mazda CX-3 is immediately apparent – its size.
Checking in at 4370mm long, 1800mm wide and 1615mm tall with a 2630mm wheelbase, the Seltos is one of the larger entrants in the small-SUV segment, and on size is more of a rival for the likes of the Nissan Qashqai and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross.
The generous exterior dimensions translate well into cabin space, with all variants bar the entry-level S sporting a generous 433 litres of cargo space while being fitted with a full-size alloy spare wheel, which is one of the most underrated features of any car in our opinion.
With a space-saver spare in the S, storage increases to an impressive 498L, which Kia claims is as good as any other B-segment vehicle. Folding the 60/40 rear seats down increases usable space to 1393L.
While many small SUVs feature rear legroom and headroom that can only be described as pitiful, the Seltos feels positively roomy in comparison, with adults able to sit in relative comfort in the rear seats with ample headroom and an appropriate amount of space in front.
The size of the Seltos makes its value proposition more enticing, with a starting price of $25,990 driveaway for the entry S grade comparing favourably with the smaller Mazda CX-3 Neo Sport auto (from $24,710 plus on-roads), Mitsubishi ASX ES auto (from $25,490 plus on-roads) and the platform-sharing Hyundai Kona Go 2WD (from $24,000 plus on-roads).
Up front, the cabin of the Seltos is well arranged with premium touches on higher-spec variants, but the eyes are immediately drawn to the 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system available on all variants bar the S, with Kia again claiming class-leading size for this unit.
The new touchscreen also ushers in the latest iteration of Kia’s multimedia interface, which proved to be fairly intuitive and easy to use, while its generous size is impressive for a car of the Seltos’ class and price point.
Top-spec GT-Line versions also replace the monochrome 3.5-inch instrument cluster display with a 7.0-inch colour display as well as a head-up display, which provide drivers with all the information they could need while on the road.
Other premium features such as heated and ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, ambient interior lighting, an eight-speaker Bose audio system, a fast wireless charger and a sunroof are included in the GT-Line, while lower grades do a good job of covering the equipment essentials.
Two powertrain options are available on the Seltos, with the S, Sport and Sport+ offered with the entry-level 2.0-litre aspirated four-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive, while the all-paw, 1.6-litre turbo-petrol mill can be had in the Sport+ and GT-Line.
While a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine is a common starter in Hyundai and Kia products, the Seltos’ engine is a little different in that it is a frugal Atkinson-cycle unit mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which Kia has implemented for greater fuel savings.
While we generally are not huge fans of CVTs, the one exception is with engines featuring relatively modest outputs, such as the Seltos’ mill which outputs 110kW at 6200rpm and 180Nm at 4500rpm.
The CVT does a good job of keeping engine revs in the sweet spot where power is readily available and helps minimise the time spend low in the rev range where aspirated engines tend to feel underpowered.
During our time with the 2.0-litre engine, we recorded a fairly miserly fuel usage of 6.5 litres per 100km, which is less than the official combined figure of 6.8L/100km. It should be noted, however, that a good chunk of driving was done while cruising on the highway.
The top-spec engine choice is another familiar Kia/Hyundai product, the 1.6-litre turbo-petrol unit tuned to produce 130kW at 6000rpm and 265Nm from 1500-4500rpm, driving all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Most noticeable when stepping up to the turbo engine is the extra 85Nm of torque on offer, providing some welcome shove off the line and when climbing hills, however the performance upgrade from the 2.0-litre is not so stark that it is clearly the superior offering when price is taken into account.
The seven-speed dual-clutch auto is also a little bit unpredictable, sometimes holding gears for too long and tending to be a little haphazard with how it changes gears. For non-performance cars, we will take standard or torque-converter autos over a dual-clutch nine times out of ten.
Our combined fuel consumption figure of 7.1L/100km in the turbo also came in under the official 7.6L/100km figure, with the same amount of highway driving – an impressive feat nonetheless.
Along with all-wheel drive, one benefit of the turbo engine is the fitment of multi-link independent rear suspension, which replaces the torsion-beam set-up in the FWD versions.
Like all local Kia and Hyundai models, the Seltos is subject to an Australia-specific ride and handling tune to deal with our harsh road surfaces, and when combined with its large wheelbase, results in a comfortable and compliant ride quality.
The best mix for ride quality is probably the Sport+ AWD, which scores the multi-link suspension while featuring 17-inch rims, which give a more comfortable and settled quality than the 18-inch hoops on the GT-Line.
Torsion-beam versions still offer a comfortable ride feel, however dynamic ability in both set-ups is limited, feeling a bit top-heavy and tippy around corners. While its larger dimensions are generally a positive, it doesn’t result in fantastic dynamics.
The Seltos has a sharp and direct response with good levels of feedback, which can border on becoming too sensitive, however it shouldn’t require a great deal of getting used to.
Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels are commendable across the range, however the 18-inch hoops on GT-Line can result in some unwelcome jitters coming up through the road into the cabin.
Despite having to wait for so long, Kia should be happy with the job it has done with the Seltos.
It is practical, capable, well-specced and competitively priced. While the small-SUV segment is getting crowded, it is also growing exponentially and should give the South Korean brand valuable sales volume to help its predicted sales growth in 2020 against a slowing new-vehicle market.
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Model release date: 1 October 2019
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